By Patricia Drackett, Director, The Crosby Arboretum/MSU Extension Service
The Picayune Item
PICAYUNE — Last week, students participating in the 2013 Mississippi Master Naturalist Program visited the Crosby Arboretum for an all-day training. The session was part of 40 hours of field and classroom instruction they will receive, educating them about natural resource management and environmental stewardship, and is a part of their preparation to become Certified Mississippi Master Naturalists. The excitement of the student group that day was not only palpable, but contagious. Each of these individuals brings their own unique set of skills and talents along with their desire to enter into the Master Naturalist training. The exchange of ideas and discussion that occurred between the presentations was certainly energetic. This Mississippi Master Naturalist program is administered by the Mississippi State University Extension Service, under the guidance of Dr. Chris Boyd, associate Extension professor of environmental ecology with the Coastal Research and Extension Center. Dr. Boyd’s students started their day with a field trip to the Arboretum’s Hillside Bog Natural Area, led by certified burn manager Terry Johnson. They also learned how prescribed fire is used as a landscape management tool at the Arboretum. The students also had the opportunity to walk the Arboretum grounds, and journeyed through the Aquatic, Woodland, and Savanna Exhibits. Spring’s show is beginning to fade, and the durable blooms that will withstand summer’s heat are beginning to appear. In addition to the boggy conditions at Hillside Bog, the students also probably experienced the fact that that our bog area is – well – pretty boggy right now due to recent rains. A recent Arboretum field walk was led by Dr. Sue Wilder, Regional Fire Ecologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. On the walk, she described many of the bog’s unusual plants, including bog orchids, which thrive in these areas. At the north entrance of the Pitcher Plant Bog, we discovered the tiny yellow blooms of bladderwort along the edge of the boardwalk. Sue told how this carnivorous plant sucks miniscule organisms into its bladders and digests them. The blooms of bladderwort are mixed with coin-sized rosettes of sundews that are covered with drops of glistening ruby “dew”. Threadlike flower stalks were exploding from the centers of the sundews. Soon, these stems will be topped with enormous white flowers that will tower over the diminutive plants. Brushy antlers of bright green club moss (Lycopodium) are popping up among the other bog species. The spores of this fern ally have been used in fireworks and for flash powder in early photography, and are used to create the characteristic “flash” of stage magicians. Search the Web to see examples of how Lycopodium powder is still used today in theater performances and science demonstrations, as well as read about its historical uses in medicine. The maroon blooms of parrot pitcher plants mark the locations of clusters of these short-statured carnivorous plants. Although they look like tiny cobras poised to strike, their acts are much more leisurely. Insects are attracted by the sweet-smelling secretions on the lip of the hollow leaves of the pitcher plants. Once they land on the slippery surface of the lip, they just might find themselves tumbling down into the pool of liquid enzymes below, where they are slowly digested and will provide nutrients for the plants. We were very excited to see longleaf milkweed (Asclepias longifolia) growing in abundance in the Pitcher Plant Bog. Find a photo of this plant, and then see if you can pick it out on your walk in the bog. Although it doesn’t stand out like its relative, the red-orange fewflower milkweed (A. lanceolata) that towers over the other bog species, once you find one longleaf milkweed, you will see many. Look closely at the flower clusters. The small delicate blooms are purple, which is not readily apparent at a quick glance. Such is the hidden beauty of the bog – you might just walk right by this incredible world if you didn’t get a tip or two to stop and explore its subtle curiosities. Such wonders may require an extra hint to notice, but a major show that will be hard to miss is preparing to make a debut in the Savanna Exhibit – the emergence of the pink meadow beauties (Rhexia). Right now, the plant is sending up stems covered in clasping leaves, and soon the entire Pitcher Plant Bog will be covered in a rosy glow. Refer to a website such as www.southeasternflora.com to see the Rhexia found in Mississippi, or follow the link to the Crosby Arboretum plant data base from our home page to read about the species found in our pine savanna. What are your thoughts about visiting the Arboretum? If you have not yet participated in the research study currently being conducted by our Senior Curator Richelle Stafne seeking to determine the possible causes for reasons affecting visitation to the Crosby Arboretum, please consider doing so. The link for the survey can be found on our website and will be available until mid-June. It will take about 10 minutes to complete. Want to learn the secrets of passion flower vine? Then mark your calendar to attend our program on Friday, June 7 from 11 a.m. to noon. Dr. Eric Stafne, MSU Associate Extension Research Professor, will expound on the ornamental and edible uses of our native “maypops.” Need to relax? On Saturday, June 8, a gentle yoga class will be offered from 9 to 10 a.m. in the beautiful natural setting of Pinecote Pavilion, with certified yoga instructor James Sones. A short meditation sitting will follow the class. Both programs are free to Arboretum members and $5 for non-members. For more information, or to sign up for a program, visit www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu or call (601) 799-2311.The Crosby Arboretum is located in Picayune, I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59). For further exploration: Research club moss, sundew, and bladderwort in your local library or on the Internet. Learn about their strange and unusual qualities and how to recognize them. They just might be growing in your own backyard.